I, as I had to remind most people I met, am not a chair. I attended as a speaker on the Peer Review in Computing Research panel giving my usual spiel on how the current publication culture hurts the community-building aspects of conferences. Jeannette Wing made a great argument of how our deadline-driven research and conservative program committees may lead our field to lose its "vibrancy, excitement and relevance".
A number of people talked about the big projects they work on which make me almost rethink having gone into theory. Almost. The need for better algorithms shows up in many of these talks. Yoky Matsuoka from U. Washington talked about the artificial hand her group developed that has the full range of motions of a human hand but they lack the algorithms to have the hand do even some simple natural tasks. Illah Nourbakhsh from CMU talked about building electric cars and his ideas of using a supercapacitor as an energy cache for batteries so the batteries become smaller and cheaper but hits challenging cache optimizing issues. The group is running a contest, best algorithm wins an electric car.
Sally Fincher from the University of Kent gave a surprisingly strong talk Why Can't Teaching Be More Like Research? We get judged by our research based on how we compare to the global community but teaching is much more local and Sally talked about the implications of this distinction.
Most disappointing was the discussion on the NRC Rankings. Charlotte Kuh, who served on the NRC committee putting together the "soon" to be released report, said it will not give a specific ranking of each department but rather a range, like University of Southern North Dakota is ranked between 8th and 36th. And not just one range but five ranges based on different weights of the various criteria. And you can create other rankings based on your own choice of weights. All based on 2005-6 data. And they used citation data from the ISI which doesn't include most CS conferences. The CRA board talked them out of that but now the CS data and rankings will use no citation information at all. But even outside of CS, with multiple ranking ranges and old data, the NRC report will be of little value.